The following is based on a response I wrote in a forum on Heather’s web site. It uses principles I mainly learned from her web site, and adds one proviso — “no cold drinks!” — that kept me sane, though in some pain , through many years of IBS-C. This page is about how to start on the IBS Diet. I am thinking my way toward some statement of principles, that cuts through the wealth of information here, and on Heather’s site. In the meantime, I hope this page will help.
Any group of foods by itself (excluding obvious trigger foods) may be okay for IBS. There are some extra factors such as eating on an empty stomach that explain why a meal is okay one day and produces cramps or D the next.
A key suggestion is, start every meal with a “serving” of soluble fiber. I love Heather’s Acacia fiber, ™ but if you don’t have it on hand, get Benefiber, ™ which is all guar gum, [update: Benefiber was changed without notice, and now is based on wheat dextrin] or a fiber supplement that is all inulin, such as FiberSure ™. If you know what your fiber intake has been every day, and you are not on any laxatives, divide your daily fiber intake into as many meals as you usually have. Match it to the dose / fiber content on the label of your chosen brand of fiber. Then take that fiber dose for every meal, before you start to eat, and before you drink anything.
If you don’t know how much fiber you have been getting every day, get Equalactin (also over the counter), and take two tablets four or five times a day, for a week or so.
Don’t drink anything before you take the Equalactin; drink water that is room temperature or only as cold as water from the cold water tap, after you take the Equalactin. Then eat.
If you have been taking laxatives regularly, don’t stop all at once and switch to these/Heather’s dietary recommendations. Somewhere on the boards at Heather’s site there is a regimen for gradually substituting the soluble fibers I’ve mentioned for laxatives. Follow that.
Pay attention to what you drink, also. Substitute soy milk for dairy [but watch for sugar substitutes in the soy milk]; get soy cheese, rather than dairy cheese. Also, look for citric acid on the label of drinks, sodas and powders particularly. Coffee is going to double you over; soy coffee or half-soy, half-coffee, made in a French press or toddy maker, may work. For tea, whether it doubles you over or not depends on the tannic acid produced–tea bags are usually quite efficient in producing tannic acid. Instead, use herbal teas that are unlikely to produce citric acid. For me, if I add Stevia to blueberry tea I have a heavenly drink where the citric acid seems to have been neutralized.
Heather’s diet, as others have observed, is better for IBS-D, and for people who are skinny because of D. It is heavy on carbohydrates, especially rice. Rice, as far as I can see by checking fiber tables, is not a soluble fiber. If you have to go out to eat, steer people to a Chinese restaurant and have rice and tofu in a sauce. In that case, taking rice to start does make the meal tolerable. It isn’t going to do anything for your constipation two days down the road–just prevent immediate bloating and pain, mostly. For home, begin to eat products that are soy-based and free of artificial sweeteners.
I’ve lived a life of pain with IBS before discovering Heather’s website, but I’ve also lived a life of eating to dispel the pain (go figure–goes back to infancy, I think). That means I’m overweight, and am now losing weight on my modified diet.
People will try to scare you about soy; don’t let them. Most of the world lives on soy, and some of the most long-lived people eat soy every day.
Of Heather’s products, do get the Acacia fiber when you can, and get her Fennel tea. It does wonders for cramps. You can substitute Anise tea, even made with Anise from the spice rack, or fennel seeds. Ordering from Heather’s website is super fast; you can also order from Amazon.com–for example, if someone gives you a gift certificate for a birthday, or Thanksgiving, or the holidays.
Last, but probably first in causing cramps, is the gastrocolic reflex. Heather enlightened me about this one; it means that food or drink doesn’t have to work its way through your digestive system to the colon before causing pain or gas or bloating. Certain things will trigger this reflex, particularly on an empty stomach, and suddenly, there you are, doubled over. Avoid dairy, caffeine, citric acid, tannic acid, acidic coffee (like instant), iced or even cold drinks, and perhaps broccoli.
Added June 10, 2007
See today’s post that gives a calorie-counted example of one day of the IBS diet I follow.